The AIP diet is a way of eating to reduce or eliminate inflammation and bring relief to those with autoimmune disorders. By eliminating certain types of food, you learn which ones trigger inflammation and symptoms of autoimmune disease and which ones work to heal your body.
If you’re considering the AIP diet, have been advised by a medical professional to follow the autoimmune protocol, or are looking for a natural way to bring about relief from autoimmune symptoms, here is all you need to know to get started.
AIP stands for autoimmune protocol and is used in defining a way of eating to help reduce or possibly eliminate many of the symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases. The AIP diet, also called the autoimmune paleo diet, is one of the most effective natural ways to manage autoimmune disease.
The AIP Diet eliminates certain foods that are known to trigger systemic inflammation. Gradually, these foods are reintroduced to help people with autoimmune diseases determine which foods make symptoms worse and which can be safely included in their daily diets.
Autoimmune disease is a condition where the body’s immune system mistakes healthy tissues for those things that it normally guards against, like pathogens such as bacteria or viruses. In the case of autoimmune diseases, the immune system essentially goes into overdrive, attacking healthy cells and tissues, leading to a long list of symptoms, some being quite severe.
There are known to be at least 80 autoimmune diseases that affect the body systemically in different ways. The prevalence of autoimmune disease symptoms has been increasing, but the medical community isn’t sure if this is due to things like lifestyle factors or diet or if it’s simply a case that more autoimmune conditions are being diagnosed, where in the past, they were misdiagnosed or overlooked.
What we do know is that autoimmune diseases are quickly outpacing other major health concerns among western populations. Some of the most common health issues that we see today are autoimmune disorders. These include rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, disorders that affect thyroid function like Hashimoto’s disease, and even type II diabetes.
We’re coming to understand that digestive health and the gut microbiome play major roles in our overall health and the development of chronic illness. The autoimmune protocol diet helps balance gut health and reduces or eliminates the inflammation and attacks of an overactive immune system.
While there are many types of autoimmune diseases, the AIP diet is especially helpful for people with autoimmune disorders that affect the gut and digestive health. This primarily includes the category of inflammatory bowel disease or IBD, including Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.
Autoimmune Protocol Diet
The AIP diet, or autoimmune paleo diet, supports the immune system and reduces inflammation in the body. This happens through a dietary autoimmune protocol that eliminates known triggers of inflammation, such as processed foods, dairy, grains, and more.
The AIP diet focuses on healing the body with anti-inflammatory foods that are shown to reduce inflammation in people with suspected and confirmed autoimmune diseases. Individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases, disorders that affect the thyroid gland, and other autoimmune diseases often find at least some level of relief within a few weeks of following the autoimmune protocol diet.
It’s also worth mentioning that in the cases of suspected autoimmune diseases, it’s crucial to receive a proper diagnosis, but you can also follow the autoimmune protocol on your own to determine if it provides any relief from your symptoms and improves your quality of life.
The autoimmune protocol diet is broken down into three separate phases. Let’s take a look at what each of these phases is and what foods to eat and avoid on the AIP diet to bring relief from autoimmune disease and inflammation.
Phases of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet
The goal of the AIP diet is to enable those with autoimmune diseases to discover which foods trigger inflammation so that they can be eliminated from the diet in the long term. This is about lifelong health and wellness rather than a quick fix.
The AIP diet is broken down into three phases, and for optimal results, you want to complete each phase successfully. Here, we break down the three phases of the diet and what you can expect from each one.
The Elimination Phase
The first phase of the AIP Diet is the elimination phase. Just as it sounds, this phase is when you eliminate all known inflammatory triggers from your diet so that you can later reintroduce them one by one and determine if there is an inflammatory reaction after each new reintroduction.
For some, this is the most challenging phase. The standard American diet is filled with foods that cause an immune response, so eliminating them all at once can be quite an adjustment. Still, it is crucial to eliminate all known triggers during this phase, even those you don’t think you have an issue with. You really need that clean slate before going into the second phase of the AIP, which is reintroduction.
The length of time that you follow the elimination phase protocol differs for each person. Most people who do AIP stay in the elimination phase for about 60-90 days. Some find relief after only a couple of weeks but sticking to it a little longer ensures the body has completely rid itself of inflammatory triggers.
One important thing to keep in mind is that while the elimination phase feels restrictive, it’s actually focused very much on nutrient density. There’s a lot that you can eat during this phase, and many find that it’s helpful to keep a positive mindset. Some patients have claimed clinical remission after going through the elimination phase, but each person is different.
The first step was to eliminate foods that are known as potential triggers of inflammation. The second step is to reintroduce them, one at a time, and assess for systemic inflammation after each reintroduction.
Many people are excited to get to this phase of the AIP diet. A word of caution here is not to rush it. The reintroduction phase is slow, but it takes longer for a good reason. You need this time to accurately assess whether each food causes inflammation, making your autoimmune disease worse.
Of all of the foods you eliminate, you’re going to reintroduce foods one at a time. This is important so that you know whether or not you’re reacting to a specific food. Another thing to keep in mind is that your symptoms might not be glaringly obvious.
Say you’re feeling great on the elimination diet. It’s time to reintroduce foods, and you choose to start with wheat. Maybe you don’t feel like your autoimmune disease flares up, but you feel more fatigued or foggy-headed than usual. These are common symptoms of food intolerance and food-related inflammation.
When you begin to reintroduce foods, choose one to start with. Take only a small bite and wait 15-30 minutes to see how you feel. If you don’t notice any symptoms, eat another bite and wait. Repeat this once or twice more, then wait several hours before having any more. If you remain symptom-free, try a full-sized serving at the next meal, then don’t have any more for at least three days.
During these three days, keep a careful record of any changes in your health, including physical as well as mental symptoms. If you truly haven’t noticed any changes, then there’s a good chance this particular food isn’t one of your triggers. If you have noticed changes, eliminate that food from your diet completely, at least for the short term.
Continue reintroducing foods one at a time, waiting about a week between reintroductions. This eliminates the possibility of confusing a reaction to one food with a reaction to another.
The final phase of the autoimmune protocol diet is maintenance. This is where you’ve gone through the process of eliminating foods and reintroducing them, and you have a good idea of what foods to avoid for your health and control of your autoimmune disorder. Now comes the part where you make permanent changes to enhance your quality of life.
Keep in mind that our bodies change over time. You can reenter the elimination at any time. Some people revisit the elimination protocol because they’ve experienced an increase in symptoms. Others find that they’ve become bored and want to know if they can try reintroducing their favorite foods back into their diet.
There’s also the fact that some foods that the AIP diet eliminates are actually nutrient-dense foods. Like nuts and seeds that are packed with vital nutrients. It’s ok to go back and attempt to reintroduce these foods as long as you’re paying attention to your body’s cues rather than simply wanting to satisfy a craving.
Foods to Eat on AIP
There’s nothing worse than being told to follow a specific diet and then hearing about all the things you can’t eat. In truth, there are a lot of foods that the AIP diet eliminates, especially during the first phase, but there are plenty of foods that you can eat. Instead of feeling deprived, let’s look at all the delicious, nutrient-dense foods that you can enjoy every single day.
Almost all vegetables are acceptable in unlimited quantities on the AIP diet. The only exceptions here are nightshade vegetables, which we’ll detail a little further below, and algae.
Although we think of these as vegetables, tubers are a separate category all of their own for the AIP diet. You’ll want to avoid regular potatoes, but other tubers like sweet potatoes and yams get the thumbs up.
Most fruits are acceptable and are great for satisfying a sweet tooth. Avoid processed fruit products that contain added sugars and stick to the natural stuff or treats you make on your own using AIP-compliant ingredients.
Fermented foods are actually great for gut health and balancing the gut microbial composition. Choose foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kombucha, and coconut kefir. There’s a difference between true fermentation and some that you find in the shelf-stable section of the grocery store, so choose brands that are actually fermented. More often than not, you’ll find these in the refrigerated section.
Minimally Processed Meat
This includes poultry, seafood, fish, wild game, organ meats, and high-quality beef. Choose grass-fed and grass-finished or pasture-raised if these are options that are available to you. Stay clear of meats that have been processed or have nitrates added.
You can have some, but not all, oils during the elimination phase of the AIP diet. Choose minimally processed oils made from vegetable products. A few good examples include olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
You want to stay away from refined and artificial sweeteners during the autoimmune protocol elimination diet, but you can still have some sweetness in your life. Choose natural sweeteners like honey or pure maple syrup.
Spices and herbs are mostly acceptable across the board, except for those that come from nuts, seeds, or nightshade vegetables. For the cleanest AIP experience, eliminate spices like nutmeg and paprika. Most other spices and herbs are perfectly fine.
Vinegars are also a great addition to your diet because they add a nice flavor punch, and some, like apple cider vinegar, have great health benefits. Most kinds of vinegar are fine as long as they don’t have added sugars.
Teas make a nice substitute if you’re missing your daily cup or two of coffee. Again, stay clear of sweetened teas and check the label for non-compliant ingredients, although this is rare for tea.
Foods to Avoid on AIP
Alright, so now we have to talk about the foods you need to avoid during the elimination phase of the AIP diet. These are foods that are known to cause inflammation and health issues throughout the autoimmune community.
Here is the list of foods you want to avoid during the elimination phase and then reintroduce one at a time during phase two of the diet.
Grains are one of the foods people with autoimmune disorders often have the most trouble with. This is especially true for people with Celiac disease who cannot tolerate grains with gluten at all. Grains you want to avoid include wheat, oats, barley, rye, and rice. This includes foods made from grains, like bread and cereal.
This includes all dairy and foods made with or from dairy products. Examples include cow’s milk, goat’s milk, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, and nutritional powders or drink mixes that contain dairy products.
Along with dairy, you want to avoid eggs and other foods that contain eggs. This includes both the whole egg and the individual parts of the egg, like the yolk or egg whites.
This category of vegetables is known to cause an immune system response in sensitive individuals. It’s suspected that many people are living with nightshade sensitivity but have no idea. Vegetables in this category include tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes (regular white potatoes, not sweet potatoes or yams).
This includes most foods that we identify as beans, along with peanuts. Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, and products made from these foods should be avoided. This includes peanut butter and soy products made from soybeans.
Nuts & Seeds
Eliminate all nuts and seeds from your diet when following the autoimmune protocol diet. This includes not only the nuts and seeds themselves but also products derived from them. Avoid food items like almond flour that you might otherwise use as a substitute for regular flour in baking.
This category also includes some spices that you might not suspect. Spices that are ground from a whole seed are off the table. Anise, fennel, coriander, cumin, and nutmeg are a few examples. You’ll also want to avoid mustard for the same reason. Unfortunately, for chocolate lovers, chocolate and cocoa fall in this category too.
Processed and Refined Sugars
Stay away from white sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup (make sure to check those labels for this one), barley malt syrup, rice syrup, and artificial sweeteners too. This means that most sweets, aside from fruits, are off the table during the elimination phase.
Avoid processed oils like vegetable oil, canola oil, palm oil, and oils made from legumes, nuts, or seeds, like sunflower oil or soybean oil.
You’ll also want to avoid coffee (yes, even decaf) and alcohol while following the autoimmune protocol diet. Food additives, food colorings, trans fats, emulsifiers, thickeners, and artificial sweeteners must also be avoided.
Pros and Cons of the AIP Diet
As with any diet, there are pros and cons. If you have a specific health concern, such as inflammatory bowel disease, what you eat is especially important for your health. Let’s talk about some of the pros and cons of the AIP diet to help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.
First, even without a known autoimmune disease, many people feel better overall when eliminating certain foods from their diet. Processed sugars or processed foods, in general, is a big one. There’s also the fact that many of us are walking around with food sensitivities and have no idea. The AIP diet can help eliminate these foods and help you develop healthier thoughts and habits around food.
The AIP diet is also nutritionally dense. Processed foods and inflammation-causing foods are replaced with foods that are packed with anti-inflammatory nutrition. It’s not uncommon for someone to gain energy and even lose a little weight when following the AIP diet simply because they’re eating healthier.
The AIP diet has also shown positive results in providing some relief to people with autoimmune conditions. Depending on the individual situation, the AIP diet can work with or without medications to improve the symptoms of autoimmune conditions.
Now for the downside of the AIP diet. Honestly, for people suffering from autoimmune disorders, the positives far outweigh the negatives with this diet. Still, there are some things that people struggle with.
The first is that while AIP is an elimination diet designed to reduce inflammation, some find it restrictive and difficult to adapt to. If you’re completely changing the way you eat, there’s also the financial aspect of buying all new food and then taking the time to learn how to prepare it.
You should also be careful of timing when following the AIP diet. You don’t want to upset an already sensitive digestive system by reintroducing foods if you’re not feeling well or are experiencing a severe flare-up of symptoms. The AIP diet also works best when combined with other techniques, such as stress management.
Finally, because the AIP diet restricts groups of food, some worry that it lacks in certain nutrients. If this is a concern, you should work with a professional who can provide medical advice for optimal nutrition, especially during autoimmune flares.
AIP Meal Delivery
One way to make following the autoimmune protocol a little easier is by signing up with an AIP meal delivery service. These companies offer prepared meals that are completely AIP compliant. They deliver them to your door, and all you have to do is heat and eat.
We’ve tested pretty much all the meal delivery services out there and love Paleo on the Go, Pete’s Paleo, and Trifecta Nutrition for delicious AIP meals. Some sites even offer free recipes to help you create AIP-friendly meals on your own. For more information about AIP meal delivery, you can read our full review.
One thing to keep in mind is that while Paleo and AIP share many characteristics, there are some fine differences. It’s always best to ensure that the company you choose offers AIP meals, and it’s also smart to check the ingredients yourself just to make sure.
What can you eat on the AIP diet?
You can eat a lot of food on the AIP diet, like most vegetables except nightshades and potatoes. Most fruits, un-processed meats that are free of additives, and fermented foods.
What foods can you not eat on the AIP diet?
When following the AIP diet, you want to avoid certain types of food, including grains, dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds, processed meats, processed and refined sugars, and processed foods.
What’s the difference between AIP and paleo?
AIP and paleo share many common features but AIP is a type of paleo-style diet that’s designed to fight inflammation. The AIP diet eliminates more food, at least during the initial phase, than the paleo diet.
Living Life Better with the Autoimmune Protocol Diet
The AIP diet works to reduce inflammation and ease an overactive immune system. If you’re living with an autoimmune disease, learning how to control your symptoms through diet is one of the most important steps you can take for your health. AIP meal delivery services are a great thing for adapting to the AIP way of life, plus with all this delicious food, you’ll never feel deprived!